Pain is a Gift
The Dalai Lama* defined compassion as “the wish that all sentient beings be free of suffering.” He did not say “free of pain”.
Pain is an inevitable truth of life. Suffering is magnified pain, and this is something I will expand on in another post.
Compassion doesn’t seek to fix pain; it doesn’t seek to chase pain away, but rather to sit with pain, hold it’s hand, and listen to the important messages it has come to communicate.
Loving-kindness wishes others, and ourselves, good things like happiness, safety, peace, and so on. Compassion also wishes well, but it concerns itself specifically with the experiences of pain and suffering.
It seems one could be a loving and connected person by focusing on loving-kindness rather than compassion, like this could be an easier path. But when we choose to focus on enjoyable emotions and neglect the importance of pain, we turn away from those we wish to love, including ourselves, when pain and suffering come up. Anyone who has received this kind of treatment realizes that this treatment does not feel like love. It is what is commonly called “fair-weather friendship”.
Pain is not the absence of the desired state of happiness. No amount of loving-kindness can banish pain. Pain is normal, healthy, and incredibly valuable.
A life devoid of pain is a life devoid of spiritual work. We wouldn’t wish for our children that they never have to work for anything, that they never have any difficulties or ambitions or obstacles, that they’d never need to use their muscles to climb or run or peel potatoes. Our work helps us learn, grow, connect, and have meaningful lives.
Pain teaches us if we give it loving attention. It opens us if we hold space for it. It guides us in wise directions if we follow it, and it connects us to others if we trust it. This is all easier than it sounds, when we have good tools.
I wish myself and others rich experiences of pain. I wish us all the ability to hold pain with reverence and tenderness. I wish us all courage and the power of discretion, the ability to find the medicinal truth in every experience of injury.
Pain is a gift.
*For clarity, I do not necessarily agree with the the religious doctrine the Dalai Lama represents or his statements about the doctrine. In particular, I disagree with statements he has made with regard to sexuality.